1. Tanks for the Memories
This is your guide to the tank. Five weeks remain of the 2022 NFL regular season and for fans of teams in the bottom quartile of the league, draft positioning becomes important to a significant portion of those fans. What do you need to know as a Bears fan? I’m not suggesting that you cheer for Bears losses but rather understand that losses for the team at this point can create value for the draft next spring. Those higher draft positions can give the Bears more value if they would like to trade down to fill more holes on this roster or take a player they fall in love with.
The Bears currently sit at three wins in a tie with two other squads. Because the Bears have a strong strength of schedule at this point in the year, any tie with another franchise generally means the Bears will pick behind that other team – having a similar record against weaker opponents means your team is worse and therefore picks higher. So, in this case the Bears are hurt by the stronger schedule they were given. If you want the Bears to have a higher pick, you want there to be as few teams tied with the Bears in wins as possible. For each team, I’ll list their remaining schedule with the current betting lines (weeks 14 & 15) and the projected betting line as of right now (weeks 16-18). I used a projection formula for the predicted lines and while I don’t agree with them at all, I wanted to base the projections on something other than my own opinion. A plus indicates that they are underdogs by that many points while a negative sign means they’re favored. Bold means a matchup against another low-win team.
2. Texans (1.5 wins) – Cowboys +17, Chiefs +14, Titans +10.5, Jags +4.5, Colts +7
The Texans are likely not going to lose the number one overall pick. The next two weeks will likely be close-your-eyes level of scary for Texans faithful as they will be outmatched by two Super Bowl contenders in the Cowboys and Chiefs. However, ending the year with three straight divisional games in a bad division provides for a small chance that the Texans could get hot at the end and knock off an inconsistent Jags team and a very weird Colts team in the last week with nothing on the line. It would take two wins at this point to move the Texans above another team as they only have the one win and then the tie against the Colts.
Projection: Texans pick first.
3. Bears (3 wins) – BYE, Eagles +7.5, Bills +14, Lions +5.5, Vikings +7
Similar to the Texans lines in many ways, the Bears have a tough slate down the stretch. The Eagles and Bills are currently the betting favorites to get to the Super Bowl from their respective conferences and the Lions are starting to play good football. The Bears simply can’t expect to hang with a team like the Eagles or the Bills so it will likely come down to the divisional games.
The game I have my eye on is the Vikings game to end the year. The Vikings may not have the incentive to win the Week 18 game if they have nothing to play for. Because the NFC South is so bad, the Bucs have no chance of competing for the #2 seed. That means that the 49ers, who just lost their starting quarterback, would need to stay hot to keep the pressure on the Vikings. The problem is they currently have a two game lead on the 49ers. On the other side, the Eagles have a one game lead on the Vikings in terms of record but they also have the head-to-head tie breaker. Therefore, the Eagles and Vikings would need to have the same record heading into Week 18 for the Vikings to have a shot at the #1 seed. If neither of those things happen and the Vikings are secure in the #2 seed, they will have little reason to play anyone of consequence against the Bears.
Prediction: Bears get to 4 wins with a victory in Week 18.
4. Broncos (3 wins) – Chiefs +9, Cardinals -1, Rams +1.5, Chiefs +10.5, Chargers +0.5
The Broncos ride this year did not go expected for them or certain silly writers on this site who bought into the Russell Wilson change of scenery story. They have been absolutely dreadful on offense and haven’t shown signs of improving. The best thing that you can say about this schedule is that they have three winnable games left on the slate. If the Chargers are knocked out of the playoffs by Week 18, that game becomes even more interesting to those that want the Broncos to stack a couple wins.
A couple of things to keep in mind is that there is zero incentive for the Broncos to make some well-timed management decisions to sit banged up players down the stretch because the first round pick belongs to Seattle. The Broncos coaching staff will be desperate to try and keep their jobs after a disaster of a first season so maybe they can capture something there. They play the Rams in Week 16, which if nothing else will push one of these dreadful teams up to at least 4 wins.
Prediction: Broncos pull out one win to finish with four.
The projection tool I’m using likes that Rams much more than I do so those numbers for the last three weeks will likely be generous. However, this team is about to get weird! The Rams claimed Baker Mayfield off of waivers this week after he was granted his release from the Panthers. Mayfield, much maligned the last two seasons, gives the Rams an element of variance that may just steal a win or two for this franchise down the stretch. I believe all five of their final games are at minimum interesting. As mentioned above, the Broncos-Rams game ensures one of those teams picks up a win, but with Mayfield coming in and the residual talent left on the roster, it wouldn’t shock me to see a couple of wins. Oh, and this is the “eff them picks” team as their first rounder belongs to Detroit. There’s some extra motivation for Bears fans to cheer for the Rams down the stretch.
Prediction: Baker does make a difference and the Rams win two down the stretch.
6. Panthers (4 wins) – Seahawks +3.5, Steelers +3, Lions +0.5, Bucs +7, Saints +3.5
Baker Mayfield’s former team sits at only four wins but have been competitive in divisional games. The Panthers defense played well over the last two weeks heading into their Week 13 bye and are now set up to play middling teams down the stretch. If you believe the Bears stick at four wins, you only need to see the Panthers win one of these final games to take themselves out of the picture. The best chance for a win likely comes next week in a home game against the Steelers.
Prediction: Panthers win at least one but likely two to take themselves out of the top 3.
7. Saints (4 wins) – BYE, Falcons -3.5, Browns +3, Eagles +9.5, Panthers -3.5
Yet another team that traded away their first round pick that currently sits at the bottom of the cellar. The Saints moves last year did not make a lot of sense and reality is finally starting to catch up with them. The Saints defense did absolutely everything it could to beat the Bucs on Monday Night Football for three plus quarters but couldn’t stop the Brady magic late. The Saints are projected to be favored in two of their final four contests, so they should be the team Bears fans are least worried about sticking where they’re at. However, if they can’t put away the Falcons coming off the bye, it may take until a Week 18 contest against the Panthers for this to settle itself. I, for one, do not want to wait that long.
Prediction: Saints finish 1-3 with a divisional game win.
8. Jaguars (4 wins) – Titans +3.5, Cowboys +6, Jets +5.5, Texans -4.5, Titans +1
The Jaguars find themselves with two games against the Titans who currently enjoy a nice cushion in the AFC South. Assuming the Titans put away this division early, they will have little incentive to play starters in Week 18 and could hand the Jags a victory. With their second game against the Texans in Week 17, the Jags have two great opportunities to end the year on a high note. The Jags are used to picking in the top ten but I don’t think it will be a high pick for them this year.
Prediction: Jags win their final two games.
9. Cardinals (4 wins) – Patriots +1, Broncos +1, Bucs +2.5, Falcons Pick, 49ers +9.5
I’m not worried about the Cardinals. They’re bad at football, yes, but all of these games are winnable – even the Week 18 game against the 49ers who may not have any reason to play their starters. These are all basically coin-flip games down the stretch, they’re bound to win a couple.
Prediction: Cardinals win at least two.
10. Justin Freaking Fields
If you’re following above, I think the Bears likely end up picking third behind the Texans and Seahawks (from the Broncos). That third pick could be used on a stud defensive lineman or it could be traded for more picks and cashed in on a highly coveted WR to plug in with Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney. The Bears will open the next season with a good amount of draft capital and the most cap room in free agency. They will acquire players this off season that will raise the talent level of this offense around Justin Fields, which will showcase his talents more and more. 2023 sets up for Fields to take that leap.
As for his play last week, you have to be encouraged by how well he performed overall. His passing continues to improve as the year moves along and the next two games he’ll have a chance to match highlights with Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen. Don’t think for a second he doesn’t want to show out in those games, shock the world, and torpedo all this draft position nonsense. First, he gets a well-deserved bye week. I hope all of you take advantage of the week off as well, do something fun, get your holiday shopping finished, and strap in for the final four games.